The Ups and Downs of Homeschooling

We started officially homeschooling our 5-year-old daughter this past fall, and I've been reflecting on what has worked for our family, what the consequences have been, and what I need to do better.  Please read the "Why We Homeschool" page on this blog to find out more about our original reasons for homeschooling.

We began homeschooling our daughter ("Lolly") before her fifth birthday, shortly before she was due to begin kindergarten with her friends from her former preschool.  Our baby boy ("Ola") was born by C-section the same month; we also have a toddler girl ("Toot-Toot") at home.  So, I went from being a working-full-time supervisor with two kids to being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of three kids in about a week's time.  I had all three kids at home with me as I recovered from the C-section, so needless to say, we got off to a slow start with homeschooling.

Over the first couple of weeks, I was overwhelmed with hormones, exhaustion, and a lack of confidence.  I began to wonder if we had made the best choice.  I asked Lolly if she was happy to be homeschooled, and she said that it was fine for kindergarten, but she couldn't wait to go to "real" school in first grade.  When I pressed her as to why, she said that it was because she wanted to ride the school bus, eat fun lunches, and get a new backpack, like her friends.  While I couldn't help her with the school bus request, I did try to make some fun lunches, and I had her help me buy school supplies for the year, so that she could take part in this underrated rite of passage.  It has also helped for us to have regular playdates with her friends from preschool, most of whom have gone on to kindergarten.

I decided to go with an eclectic mix of curriculum: a combination of workbooks, computer tutorials, projects, outside classes, and semi-unschooling with assorted games, playtime, and real-life activities.  The electicism is partly because I like being creative with school, partly because I'm too cheap to buy a packaged deal, and partly because I don't like following schedules.  (Flexibility was one of our main reasons for homeschooling in the first place, so why make a rigid homeschooling plan?)  In addition, it's often easier for me to go back and count one of Lolly's self-led activities as a homeschool activity than it is to plan something and not know what it will become.  I guess that's where the "unschooling" part comes into play.  Both my husband and I are pretty committed to traditional academics, and we're pro-assessment, so we wouldn't feel comfortable with complete unschooling.  However, I like to take a little bit of everything - the stuff that works - and fit it into what we're trying to do, rather than commit to something that works in concept but not in practice.  (Childrearing is one of the few areas in which the Cranky Idealist is the Happy Pragmatist!)

Fortunately for me, Lolly is a naturally curious and eager student, which makes teaching her very easy.  She is committed, patient, and motivated to continue to do better.  Honestly, if her personality were resistant to structured learning, I am not sure what homeschooling plan we'd follow.  I do worry that I am not able to give her the time and attention she deserves every day, as our lessons and projects are often interrupted by the demands of two diapered little ones.  This also means that I am hesistant to do things like start at science experiment or do a library day if I know that Ola might cry or that Toot-Toot might have a meltdown.  I feel like Lolly might be doing even higher-level, in-depth work if only I had a few more uninterrupted hours to spend with her each day.  Too often, I have to send her away to do her work independently, because I have other urgent needs to fulfill.  Independence is a valuable trait/skill to have, of course, but sometimes I feel that she needs me and I simply don't have enough of "me" to give to her.  The same goes for Toot-Toot, whom we are also teaching, albeit in a less formal sense.

Another consequence of homeschooling vs. sending Lolly to school (and of being the mother to three young children) is that I don't get a break during the day.  Lolly is a talkative, social child, and because she is home with me most of the time, I am her playmate, her teacher, and her mother, all rolled into one, during almost all waking hours.  I went from complaining about not getting enough time to spend with my children to being around them all the time.  It's been an adjustment for me, but kids are only young once, and getting to be with my children every day is a privilege that not every mother is able to have.  (As for the concerns about socialization, rest assured that my children have a busy social life with several close friends, and they get to interact with dozens of their peers on a weekly basis.)

One of the biggest anxieties I have, though, is that I will fail my children in some area.  It's like thinking that they'll go to college without learning to tie their shoes.  I worry that I won't be enough for them, or that others will judge me or my children more harshly if they fail at something.  After all, if my kids fall behind academically in some way, I can't blame a bad school or a personality conflict; I can only blame myself.  I don't anticipate anything negative, but I do feel like the pressure is real.  I can feel myself pushing Lolly to do more challenging work, in part out of my own insecurities.  This is the part that I do not like.

That said, I feel like challenges can inspire learning, and learning is, in itself, exciting.  Charlotte might have never guessed that her multiplication tables (for example) would be useful to learn until she was exposed to them and shown how they can help her delve more deeply into other interests.  It is my job to expose, to record, and to guide... and I hope I can inspire in the process. 

Plus, in what other job would I get to stay in my pajamas and cuddle my children anytime I wanted?  Verdict: I am enjoying it!

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